Game Review: Geasa by Jonathan Lavallee from Firestorm Ink

Who doesn’t love a good story? There’s something about being drawn into a good tale by a master storyteller that can, for a time, make you forget all about your troubles. You might even say that there was something vaguely fae-like about someone with the bardic gift. Painting
pictures with words, voices, gestures, props, and whatever else is at hand you may find yourself within the story, running from the monster in the campfire tale or feeling for the star-crossed lovers or trying to find your way home after a journey to another world…

The movement towards story-based games more about flash fiction than character sheets puts some rules around different scenarios like Guestbook, which I played recently, or the zombie story game I played a few months ago. Both revolve around the idea of assuming a role, coming up with a scenario, and roleplaying long enough (using dice or rock-paper-scissors as a resolution mechanic) to see who would win (or survive). This flash fiction movement is a bit different than the kind of roleplaying games I grew up with based around the traditional GM/player dynamic, but I love creating stories and am willing to give it a whirl.

Geasa is a game that seems to bridge the gap a bit between more traditional pen-and-paper roleplaying games like D&D and story games like Guestbook. But what I love is how well it solves the participation problem. In any game with more than two players, there are bound to be scenarios or encounters where the classic “three is a crowd” problem surfaces and somebody is left out of the action. Geasa has each player create two characters – a person and a Fae. And if that’s not enough to keep you in the action, you can play a NPC known as a Non Player Person (NPP).

But let me step back a minute and talk about the game. It’s a storytelling game about faery tales, but it’s not all the Brothers Grimm and folk tales. There are all sorts of faery tales these days, including traditional fantasy worlds with faeries in the Shakespearean mode of The Tempest or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the science fiction retelling of The Tempest as Forbidden Planet (1956), or any of the modern urban fantasy books such as The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe, Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll, Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts, and War for the Oaks by Emma Bull.

As such, a game that can adapt to the dual worlds of traditional faery tales is quite intriguing. Most tales deal with where people in the mortal realm intersect with the fickle, ever-changing yet youthful world of the fae. And usually, when the worlds become intertwined, it’s bad for the person. You define not one, but two characters – a faerie and a human. Both sides of the equation have a goal – and often the goals may be completely in opposition. The fun part comes when the deals are made. Your fae should make a deal with one of the other humans and another player’s fae should have a deal with yours, forming a strange web of connections around the gaming table.

From that point on, it’s a matter of describing scenes and working through them. Though I got a bit confused with the description of bidding to resolve encounters, I like the idea of working through it with dice-formed bids. But I did get the idea of a “geis” (curse) from the fae point of view. A geis uses compulsion and abstention to force a mortal to do something – and usually they’re silly, but sometimes they’re impossible. One example of compulsion is “You must spit when crossing a threshold or else you will be unable to speak until you water all the plants in the yard three times.” And an example of abstention is “You can’t breathe when you’re indoors or else you’ll start to cough uncontrollably until you manage to confess your love to someone.”

Stories will form organically from the relationships formed around the table. Depending on the setting, the characters, and the scenes I can imagine plenty of twisted tales and mirthful ones playing out wherever Geasa is played. The world of fae will intersect with gamers and gaming tables across the planet. Who knows what stories will be told and retold?

I look forward to exploring it when the opportunity presents itself. There is plenty in Geasa for every type of story from kid-friendly to Lovecraft-inspired. The background includes bits on the faeries themselves, the world of the fae, inspiration from myth, lore, and literature, and more. I definitely encourage you to check out Geasa at RPGnow!

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